CLEMSON FOOTBALL: Orange facing big obstacle
The No. 2 Clemson Tigers travel north to take on the Syracuse Orange in a rare Friday night (7 o’clock, ESPN) primetime showdown.
The Tigers will try to extend their school-record 12-game winning streak on opponent’s fields, while the Orange will try to notch their second victory over a reigning national champion (their first since 1987 in which they defeated Penn State 48-21).
Friday night’s game will mark only the sixth meeting between the Tigers and the Orange, with Clemson holding a 4-1 record over Syracuse — winning by double digits in all four of the meetings since the Orange joined the league in 2013.
Who to watch when Clemson has the ball
Kelly Bryant (QB): Kelly Bryant is the first Clemson quarterback to start 6-0 since the 2011 season, when Tajh Boyd started the season 8-0.
Bryant has been the leader of the offense this season, averaging 277 yards of total offense and ranking 18th in completion percentage, 19th in rushing touchdowns and 34th in total offense. However, this week will be a new test as he will attempt to play a week after suffering an ankle injury against Wake Forest.
Offensive line: The Tigers’ offensive line will face arguably its biggest test of the season this week.
The Tigers’ line will be tasked with keeping Syracuse defenders from getting to quarterback Kelly Bryant, who will be limited in his ability to use his legs to escape pressure. In order to keep Bryant’s jersey clean, they will have to open up running lanes for the running backs and give Bryant time to throw the ball down the field.
Evan Foster (S, Syracuse): The sophomore safety returned a 24-yard interception for a touchdown against Central Michigan, the Orange’s first defensive touchdown of the 2017 season.
In the past 41 games, the Orange have tallied 10 defensive touchdowns and for the fourth year in a row have recorded a Pick 6. If the Tigers are forced to throw the ball and keep quarterback Kelly Bryant in the pocket, avoiding Foster will be key.
When Syracuse has the ball
Austin Bryant (DE): Bryant has become a dominant force on the Tigers’ defensive line this season, leading Clemson with 11 tackles for loss and five sacks, while amassing 32 tackles.
This week Bryant and the rest of the defensive front four will face a pass-happy Syracuse offense, but the task for Bryant will be to get to the quarterback and be a disruptive force.
Dorian O’Daniel (LB): Through the first six games, no one has more big plays on defense than O’Daniel.
In consecutive road games against top 15 teams, O’Daniel returned interceptions for touchdowns. While O’Daniel will be hard-pressed to make it three consecutive road games with a Pick 6, he will have more than his fair share of opportunities to play in coverage this week — meaning he will have to be up to the challenge of playing the pass.
Moe Neal (RB, Syracuse): Sophomore running back Moe Neal has been nothing short of electric this season, adding another dangerous weapon to the Syracuse offense.
The second-year player is averaging more than 6 yards every time he touches the ball and has three career touchdowns — with each one of his scores averaging 47.7 yards.
The Tigers will be looking to nurse a quarterback and the Orange will look to play the role of spoilers, but the task for the Orange may be more difficult than just one player.
“When you look at Clemson, you don’t see any weakness. There is nowhere you look and think, ‘Maybe we can take advantage of this matchup,’” Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said.
For that reason, the Tigers will head into next week’s open date a perfect 7-0 and firmly in position for back-to-back-to-back ACC Championship appearances and a third straight berth in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson 31, Syracuse 13